Recent studies have highlighted the differential impact of climate change on people and their livelihoods in different parts of the world. Such findings have led to widespread political mobilization for "climate justice" in a range of contexts. Human rights, legal argument, and international institutions have structured such efforts by several government and civil society advocates, while many NGOs and social movements have called instead for structural change, organizing popular mobilization across political scales. The varied framings and strategies employed by these groups bear upon the direction of future regulatory action and, ultimately, the production of physical and social geographies. Little scholarship, however, has examined these politics as they involve differently positioned actors, with different resources, stakeholders, and commitments. This doctoral dissertation project explores these themes through a comparative study of two significantly differentiated mobilization efforts for "just" climate regulation. The project asks (1) how the groups frame the problem of uneven climate change and appropriate responses, (2) what political opportunity structures exist for them and how they make strategic choices, and (3) how framings and opportunity structures inform each other, and the assessment of outcomes. In-depth interviews with key actors in two efforts, observations of meetings and actions in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the European Union, and texts produced by the two efforts will provide data to answer these questions. The findings will demonstrate the range of framings and political opportunities that characterize the two cases, relationships between these two definitive aspects of mobilization, and links between them and the factors that differentiate the cases, which include the institutional affiliations of key actors; forms of expertise; the ideological commitments of actors and their stakeholders; political scales of engagement; and legal vs. non-legal strategies.

The project will analyze how differently positioned actors engage in formal political processes and direct action in response to the imminent and uneven environmental impacts associated with climate change. In so doing, it will unpack the divergent conceptualizations of global justice that these efforts pursue, which involve legal norms and processes, relational connections, and prescription for redistribution and redress in varying forms and degrees. It will examine how emergent scientific knowledge plays a role in the construction of political efforts that cross space to link disparate impacts, communities, and places, and how such efforts mobilize strategically at different political geographic scales. It will demonstrate the importance of actors' situatedness for their means and abilities to participate in processes of global governance and representative politics. This research has potential policy implications because it will lead to better understanding of advocacy practices and participation in current climate policy formation structures. It may also contribute to expanding knowledge of the political dimensions of climate change and its regulation in relation to themes of justice, issues of importance that have been recognized by inclusion in the mitigation section of the next Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. The study holds potential to contribute to knowledge in political geography, political ecology, as well as socio-legal studies, and to better integrate these literatures. The project will contribute to the training of a young scholar, and will incorporate results into teaching and learning opportunities.

Project Report

Scientific findings exposing the anthropogenic component and socio-spatially uneven impact of climate change illustrate consequential connections between people across vast stretches of space and time, and between social life and the bio-physical conditions on which it rests. However, findings of qualitative field research (associated with the current project award) into the construction of climate governance involving civil society and government organizations in the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations suggests that our existing political, governmental, legal, and knowledge systems are uniquely challenged to respond to the detrimental and uneven impacts of climate change because they rely in large part on two persistent forms of separation: (1) the political geographic division of groups of people from each other and from the consequences and drivers of the ecological and social processes in which they are enmeshed, and (2) the attempted and apparent division of the ecological from the social. To a significant degree, recent attempts to address the problems of climate change have been compromised because they have taken these separations as givens, e.g. efforts through the inter-state system and legal processes which privilege political geographic division over relational ties across space, and regulatory responses that depart from a narrowly constituted knowledge landscape and palate of governmental responses that tend to separate carbon emissions from the social processes and historical-geographic contexts in which they are embedded. These efforts may have been further hindered by a third form of separation which is not as obviously antithetical to the physical process of climate change but which significantly impacts responses to it: the governmental separation of decision making and the capacity for action from processes of public debate and participation. Evidence from the recent history of the politics and governance of climate change suggests that attempts to address the problems of its ongoing production and its imminent, socio-spatially uneven impact must apprehend those problems in terms of their integrated political geographic, ecological, and social dimensions, and find ways to meaningfully engage citizens. Since the UNFCCC meetings in Copenhagen in 2009, the 'political climate' for these response efforts has changed significantly. In their approaches to political mobilization and policy advocacy civil society organizations concerned with equity as well as efficacy of climate change responses are developing approaches that explore, publicize, mobilize and promote connection between people across space, between the social and the ecological, and between citizens and the consequential ecological decisions that affect them.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Daniel Hammel
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University of Washington
United States
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